Adam Mckay’s Oscar-nominated film adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book of (nearly) the same title is a perfect embodiment of the ideas we’ve been espousing here at The War on Stupid for several years now: The way to help people acheive a deeper understanding of complex issues is to serve the explanation with a spoonful of sugar. The movie deftly weaves together a thorough investigation of the events leading up to the housing crisis and economic meltdown of 2007, but does so in a way that’s easier to wrap your head around.
Some of the techniques they used:
Breaking the fourth wall. This can be a dangerous move for a filmmaker because it can turn cheesy fast. (For example, I didn’t care for Leo’s glance out at the crowd in the end of The Revenant). But here it’s employed in a way that’s helpful (and offers some comedy relief) for viewers. For example, Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street) in a bubble bath drinking champagne and explaining — wait, what was she explaining? — or a clever metaphor played out by Anthony Bourdain making fish stew. There were also asides where characters would caveat exactly how true certain elements of the script were. The movie fact-checked itself.
- Distinctive editing. Hank Corwin’s editing (per an interview with McKay) and some inspiration from the Bourne franchise (the films’ DP Barry Ackroyd, in particular, according to McKay) kept the pace of the movie up.
- Clever sub-plot analogies. For example, the illustration of how the SEC and banks like Goldman were in bed together was Jamie Shipley’s poolside visit with someone else’s ex-girlfriend, who was trying to bounce from the public sector’s regulator to a more lucrative bank gig. Here we learn that there were no laws preventing that particular type of move. Same with the woman freshly returned from an eye doctor appointment and still wearing the massive, tinted eye-shields. She was failing on some other due diligence, a synecdoche for the securities rating institutions like Moody’s.
Maybe films are the new journalism after all.